Monthly Archives: May 2014

Humans and Earth: Transitioning from Teenagers to Adults as a Species (lecture)

The lecture link below was a talk given on Earth Day at University of Wisconsin Stevens Point. (The sound on the Q&A was poor so that was left off – the Q&A of the previous night starts at the 1:09 mark at this link:  http://youtube/iyG95w4TT8w?t=1h9m)

I’ve concluded that facts are necessary but insufficient to change peoples behavior on the myriad converging crises our species and culture face. As such we are unlikely to do anything meaningful ahead of time to mitigate some of the major risks (finance/currency, poverty, economy, biodiversity, ocean, climate etc.).  I have also discovered that telling people the whole story – firehose style, is kind of like a curse, unless you proffer some action steps.   It’s why I largely stopped speaking a couple years ago (other than on Earth Days)- and why I conclude this talk with some suggestions on what individuals concerned about these things can begin to think about.

Essentially mankind has never had a plan or a goal. We pass the baton each day, each week, each year, each generation without a collective realization of our historical trajectory and future fiduciary.  Many in the tribe of Man think about deep-space. How many are thinking about humans and deep time? If we want a livable world in 100, 500, 10,000 years, with things we value, some long term ethos has to precede any actions we might take.  Our species shuffles forward like an amoeba pursuing amoebic goals. Sorting between complexities, blazing paths through reality to a target goal, is the province of individual minds.  And individual minds can influence other individual minds.

We don’t know what will happen. But we can know with high confidence what won’t happen, and that is a seriously important thing. The future will also be a matter of degrees; near-infinite variation of outcomes which are not equivalent.  And as much genetic/cultural baggage we carry, we humans have never known and been aware scientifically about ourselves and our natural world the way we are now– there are emergent properties bubbling up at the intersection of our morality and our knowledge. Things might look dark, but there is always a chance for benign and fantastic trajectories for the future – and the odds increase slightly with every person that acknowledges this truth.  “We” might not know how to influence things. Our actions might just as easily make things worse as better. But if one views the future as a fan of possibilities, many are still available, and those in our small but growing demographic who are aware of supply and demand drivers might aspire, at least for some fraction of their time, to synthesize and uphold as examples what this tribe of humans COULD be like what they COULD manifest as, despite the tall odds.

My ultimate point in this lecture is not a call to action, but a call not to rule out action.   What matters?  Caring defines what matters. In the same way, not caring defines what doesn’t matter.   The beliefs in powerlessness, futility, and nihilism are powerful ones. They are nearly as powerful as denial of scientific facts in rationalizing personal inaction. Ergo,  deciding to spend all of ones time finding personal peace and dancing around a campfire wearing a badger mask accomplishes as much for the future we care about as a full-on life of fossil fueled smorgasboard, imo.  Nothing.  Our situation calls for dignity, integrity, creativity and probably some discomfort. Ultimately, the combination of 100:1 exosomatic buffer (for americans), scientific knowledge of how we got here, and emergent properties at the intersection of culture and knowledge,  we may pass the baton forward in ways different than the deterministic course that brought us to this point. And there are degrees of both success and failure in any case. What we do, what we think, and how we live our lives matters.

The Earth Day lecture linked below is an attempt to look beyond the reductionist mainstream dialogue and synthesize ecology, environment, energy and behavior with a look to the future.   Long ago I realized that human behavior, particularly cognitive biases and belief systems are at the core of our multiple economy/environment problems, so I spent about 1/3 of the lecture on that.  I ended the talk with some suggestions on how we might keep a foot in both worlds and meet the future halfway.  More on that soon